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Reviewed: Fractal Design Arc Midi R2 Featured

Fractal Design has released the Arc Midi R2 with one of the main improvements over its predecessor being water cooling compatibility and a side window to show off the innards of your rig. We saw this as a sign from the universe to do a custom water cooling build and really put this case through its paces.main

FD-ARC-R2-W-BL 2-cropped

Like our Node 304, the Arc Midi R2 was provided by Fractal Design's local distributer Anyware and although its a review sample, it is also from a retail batch. In line with our other reviews, we like to be clear as to whether we purchased the product or not.

The Arc Midi R2 has a relatively simple appearance compared to many other cases in that it's all black, has plain drive bay covers and even the branding is pretty low key. "Flashy" is not a word we would use to describe any of the Fractal Design cases that we have reviewed to date and like the consistent subtle design, the build quality and innovation of the Arc Midi R2 is just as good, if not better, than it's brethren. 

The Arc Midi R2 has two very obvious mesh panels that can be removed easily for cleaning - this sets the expectation that it was made with airflow in mind. So with two large-ish grills and 3x140mm included with the case we did wonder about the acoustics both on its own and also once we had a raging gaming setup hammering away inside it.

The side window is a tinted plastic/perspex with two of the corners angled off which looks good and there are a number of configuration options inside regarding the fan setup, drive bay positioning and SSD location to talk about as well.

The first thing that came to mind for me when I sat in front of the Arc Midi R2 was 'Potential'. This case just felt like a blank canvas in many ways and I realised within a couple of minutes that cable routing inside this case should be easy. It wouldn't take much for even a novice builder to stamp their mark on the Arc Midi R2 with some LED Fans or a 5.25" bay flashy fan controller - In our situation, we had something a little more special in mind to test out the radiator mounts...

images courtesy of Fractal Design


Technical specifications as listed by Fractal Design

  • ATX, Micro ATX, Mini ITX motherboard compatibility
  • 2 - 5.25" bays8 - 3.5" HDD trays - all compatible with SSDs
  • 2 - 2.5" additional SSD positions behind the motherboard plate
  • 7 + 1 expansion slots
  • 7 - Fan positions (3 Silent Series R2 fans included)
  • Filtered fan slots in front, top and bottom 
  • CPU coolers up to 180 mm tall 
  • PSU compatibility: ATX PSUs up to 170 mm deep when using the bottom fan location; when not using this fan location longer PSUs (up to 270 mm deep) can be used 
  • Graphics card compatibility: Graphics cards up to 290mm in length with the top HDD cage installed - With the top cage removed, graphics cards up to 430mm in length may be installed
  • 26 mm of space for cable routing behind the motherboard plate
  • Thick rubber grommets on all holes on the motherboard plate
  • Colours available: Black
  • Case dimensions (WxHxD): 230 x 460 x 515mm
  • Net weight: 10.7kg
  • Cooling System

    • Front: 1 - 120/140mm fan (included is a hydraulic bearing 140mm Silent Series R2 fan, 1000 RPM speed); 1 - 120/140mm fan (not included)
    • Rear: 1 - 120/140mm fan (included is a hydraulic bearing 140mm Silent Series R2 fan, 1000 RPM speed)
    • Top: 1 - 120/140mm fan (included is a hydraulic bearing 140mm Silent Series R2 fan, 1000 RPM speed); 2 - 120/140mm fans (not included)
    • Bottom: 1 - 120/140mm fan (not included)
    • Fan controller: 1 - integrated fan controller for up to 3 fans (included)
    • Water cooling compatibility:
      • Front – 240 mm radiators (thick and slim) when HDD cages are repositioned or removed
      • Top – 240 mm radiators (thick and slim)
      • Bottom – 120mm radiator
      • Rear – 120mm radiators
    • Front interface

      • 2 - USB 3.0
      • Audio in/out
      • Power button with LED (blue)
      • HDD activity LED (red)
      • Reset button
      • Fan controller

      Retail package content

      • Arc Midi R2 computer case
      • User manual
      • Accessory box
      • Product code: FD-CA-ARC-R2-BL-W

       


      Construction / Quality 

      The powder coat and general finish on our unit was flawless. The front panel is plastic with a black brushed aluminium look. The case feet have rubber pads and are silver/chrome in appearance. As usual, we looked at the specifications once we had the Arc Midi R2 out of the box and went around it checking out each feature. The case feels well thought out with cable management, SSD holes, drive bay options and anti-vibration measures practically implemented. Finding everything to be as advertised, I proceeded to pull all the panels off and remove the drive bays to get a better look.

      Case Panels

      Unlike the Define R3 and Define R4 cases, there is no sound dampening bitumen incorporated into this case. With a window on one side and nice wide grills to provide high airflow, the inclusion of bitumen would have likely been of no benefit and just added unecessary weight. What this does mean is that there is a smidge of extra room behind the motherboard tray for cable management - our view on this is that every millimetre of clearance behind the motherboard tray counts and Fractal Design gives you 26mm in the Arc Midi R2.

      Whilst the front panel simply pulls off, the side and top panels lock in and are secured with thumb screws.

      Side Panels

      Both side panels are pretty standard with the right panel being plain and the left having a dark tinted window. The dark Perspex window makes it harder to see into the case but allows any internal lighting such as our Raystorm water block and any UV reactive material to stand out when the PC is switched on.

      Front Panel

      This caught us a little by surprise but the front panel is all plastic except the removable mesh filter and pulls completely off the case without any screws. The fans actually screw into the removable panel rather than the chassis. There are mounting holes for both 120mm and 140mm fans, and either 120mm or 240mm radiators. The mesh panel has two press button fasteners at the top and tabs at the bottom to hold it in place. It takes about 5 seconds to remove the grill for cleaning and about the same if not less to put it back once you have cleaned it.

      Top Panel

      The top panel is held in place with 2 thumb screws at the rear and slides back about 10mm and then lifts off. The grill and dust filter is not removable but forms the lion's share of the top panel anyway so you would remove the panel, give it a once over with the vacuum cleaner and re-fit it when done.

      There is space in the roof for 2 case fans or a radiator. We had to remove the radiator fans to easily access the top row of motherboard screws but our EX240 radiator was able to stay in place while we removed the motherboard for leak testing and then re-installed it once the testing was completed. The offset mounting holes made radiator placement really easy in our practical build exercise.

      The front IO panel is part of the case and stays attached permanently. There are two USB3 ports, headphone and microphone jacks as well as a power button, reset button and lights for power (blue) and HDD activity (red).

      Drive Cages

      The Arc Midi R2 is really easy to work with and the middle drive cage just slides out with the removal of 2 thumb screws. The bottom drive cage is also removable but it takes a little more commitment from the system builder. There are 2 screws into the front of the case and 4 in the floor, and if you want to move the bottom drive cage, then you might also want to remove the top off the actual cage itself which is another 4 screws.

      One of the nifty things about the bottom drive cage is that the floor screw holes appear to be the same as the mounding holes on a standard 120mm fan and you can mount it in 3 different positions. Once we decided to mount our radiator in the roof, we left the lower drive cage in the default position and just removed the middle cage to give maximum, unimpeded intake airflow to our system.

      The drive trays are just like the ones used in the R3 and R4 Define cases. These are easy to use, support both SSDs and mechanical hard drives, have rubber vibration dampeners for the screws and come in a contrasting white finish.


      We make every effort to undertake a practical build inside any case that we review - it's our belief that we don't really fully appreciate the design and build quality unless we have actually built a rig in it and used it for a period of time. As fate would have it, we also needed to test out the XSPC Raystorm 750 EX240 water cooling kit and the Arc Midi R2 was the perfect candidate to house our first custom water loop setup.

      Components

      We used the following components in our Arc Midi R2 build.

      • Intel i5 3570K (overclocked to 4.2 @ ~1.1v)
      • Corsair Vengeance Low Profile Ram 2x4GB (Blue)
      • Gigabyte G1.Sniper M3 Z77 mATX Motherboard
      • Corsair CX-600M semi modular PSU
      • Noctua NH-U14S (initially for testing)
      • XSPC Raystorm 750 EX240 water kit (final build)
      • SanDisk Extreme 120GB SSD
      • Western Digital Blue 500GB 7200rpm mechanical HDD
      • Gigabyte GeForce GTX580 stock cooled graphics card
      • "only a few" black zip-ties for cable management
      • 2x 5v 3-pin Fan speed reduction adapters

      The NH-U14S was used to establish a baseline and component check only - with the XSPC water kit flagged for the final build.

      Installation

      First we stripped down the whole case to get an idea of logistics like the order of assembly, obstructions and cable management.

      Once we had a rough plan, we dry fitted everything with a Noctua NH-U14S to check out the CPU cut out in the motherboard tray and look at clearance. Although we didn't tidy up the cables for our "dry fit", we could see that clearance wasn't going to be a problem and installation of the motherboard, PSU and cooler was a breeze.

      After establishing that all of our kit was working 100%, we went on to install the XSPC Raystorm 750 EX240 water kit. This is obviously a much more involved process than installing an air cooler and we found the case quite forgiving overall with a couple of minor quirks that we will note later.

      The radiator offset holes are great, you could fit a thicker radiator than our EX240 in the roof without fouling the motherboard RAM slots or heat sinks. The offset also means that the outer most (or front) line from the radiator should typically clear the top of the graphics card if you need to run it across to an internal pump or reservoir at the base of the case.

      The padding around the PSU mount is perfectly placed and should help with any potential vibration from your power supply. The only thing to note here is that we needed to press our Corsair CX-600M in place to make sure that the screw holes lined up because of the padding but the screws all went in without issue and it felt pretty snug once installed.

      Fractal Design include a thumbscrew socket-style bit with Philips head imprint at the top for installing the motherboard offsets. You can install them by hand or using a screw driver and it is always a bonus to see a tool like this in the case accessories bag.

      The grommets on the cable holes can take a fair bit of punishment and didn't dislodge during our "dry fit" or "build proper" with final cable management/routing.

      Given that we really didn't need the middle drive cage, we simply removed it and put the thumbscrews that held it in place back in their holes to make sure we didn't lose them. Although it was hard to tell, the 2 thumb screws that hold the middle drive cage in place looked slightly different to the others so we wanted to keep them separate just in case. The void that we created by removing that middle drive cage allowed the upper front 140mm fan to feed air into the case, feeding the GTX580 stock cooler. The bottom drive cage will hold up to three 3.5" mechanical hard drives or three 2.5" SSDs. When you combine that with the capability to mount two SSDs on the rear of the motherboard tray, Fractal Design still provide ample room for the average user's data storage even if the middle cage is removed - these drive mounting options make the case really versatile.

      Now for the quirks..
      Quirk #1: Top panel and raised screw heads are not a good mix. The mounting screws that come with the XSPC EX240 radiator have 2-3mm high heads on them which, when fitted to the top panel can stop the top panel from sliding on as it should. The panel still slides on but if you are not careful, it may not sit flush on the edges. Standard case fan screws are fine and do not impede the fitting of the top panel at all. This isn't a huge issue but is something to be aware of.

      Quirk #2: 5.25 bay tolerance Our XSPC Dual bay reservoir and pump unit has a fill port in the top that sits about 1mm above the rest of the unit. This was easily managed by pressing into the upper inner lip of the drive bay with my thumbs to improve the clearance. This wasn't an issue and as you can see in the photos, the reservoir does slide into place and screws in as it should. As stated in our XSPC Raystorm 750 EX240 review, this might have been due to the case, the reservoir or the combination of both.

      Fan configuration in our water cooled build

      The integrated 3 stage fan controller is powered from a Molex plug and has three 3-pin fan headers for the included 140mm fans. After checking the fan performance to noise ratio, we decided that the fans should be fine at 5v, especially with the middle drive cage removed.

      The XSPC 120mm fans on the radiator were a touch noisy at 12v and the water loop still performed really well with the radiator fans set to a barely audible 5 volts.

      We still wanted to keep the flexibility of being able to easily and manually adjust the radiator fan speed so we hooked them up to the integrated fan controller along with the upper front 140mm fan with the intention of roughly matching the air intake from the front with the exhaust at the top. The rear and lower front 140mm fans were run from the motherboard fan headers via 5v fan reduction adaptors to provide constant and virtually silent airflow.

      This might sound complicated but it was very simple to implement when the case has a subtle fan controller on the IO panel. If we had to use a 5.25" bay mounted fan controller, it would have restricted our water cooling options to either internal tube or single 5.25" bay reservoir.


      Final Thoughts

      FD-ARC-R2-W-BL 2-cropped

      Noise

      The fans that Fractal Design include with the Arc Midi R2 are perfectly matched for an air cooled rig with a high end GPU setup and they are really quiet. At 5v, they are as good as silent and at 12v you can barely hear them - the stock fans will almost certainly NOT be the loudest part of your build and if they are, you have done really well.

      We removed the top fan and installed it in the front to have 2 front intake 140mm fans and one rear exhaust 140mm fan with our 240mm radiator installed in the roof. After leak testing our water kit, we tested the included case fans at 5v,7v and 12v with nothing else running in the case and found the fans to be basically silent at 5v whilst still visibly moving air, 7v didn't sound or feel much different to 5v but there was a noticeable difference in airflow at 12v and whilst we could hear the fans working in an open case, we considered the noise to be audible but not noticeable.

      The default configuration of the fans is perfect for an air cooled rig and if we were not installing a top radiator, we would have left it as it was out of the box.

      Room to Personalise

      There is real potential to make your mark on this case - literally. The Arc Midi R2 has:

      • Plenty of room to route wires making it a good candidate for installing LEDs or cathode kits
      • 2 grills and a tinted window to show off internal lighting
      • Room for a custom water loop of either a basic level or multi radiator capacity for the more advanced system builder
      • Dual bays to cater for drive bay reservoirs, fan controllers, Optical drives, media/card readers
      • Moveable internal drive cages to allow for internal reservoirs and pumps
      • Multiple mounting holes for different sized fans - you could replace all the fans with LED fans to give this case just about any colour highlight you want.
      • SSD mounting holes on the motherboard tray to go for that clutter free look inside the case 
      • 2 mesh panels that are easy to remove so if you really wanted to, you could take them out, spay paint them and re-fit them to get a unique look

       

      Value

      To get 3x140mm fans in a $135 mid tower case that are this quiet is good value, add to that a 3 stage fan controller on the IO panel and you start pushing into "great value" territory. The build quality and design considerations for the system builder are also top shelf in a well priced product.

      Conclusion

      This case is really hard to beat at it's price point. It is really easy to work in and can be configured in many ways in terms of fans, drive bays, radiator placement and SSD mounting. Due to the trademark simplistic design, it isn't hard to dress it up and the cable routing potential means that you can have LEDs and fans installed and neatly manage the wires. At first I wasn't sold on the tinted side window but after finishing the build and peeling off the protective film, it really looked much better than a clear window - especially with the green LEDs and water kit inside the case.

      Despite being a mid tower case, there is more room inside it than you might expect. At $135 this isn't a cheap case, nor is it expensive but we think it's good value when you consider the Pros below.

      PROS

      CONS

      The default fans are quiet Might be too plain for some people
      Integrated Fan controller The top panel doesn't play nice with tall screw heads when mounting radiators
      Very configurable drive bay options  
      Water Cooling Friendly (Radiator placement options)  
      SSD mounts behind the motherboard  
      Good build quality (grommets, powder coat, sleeving)  
      Tinted side window  
      Great platform to personalise  
      Very well priced at $135  

       

      EditorsChoice  Silence Award  TheValueAward

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

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Last modified onFriday, 11 October 2013 19:22

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